Lou and his brother Larry (real guys, different names) are two of the greatest penny-pinching business owners I know – and I’ve known them for going on twenty years. They run a small, 30-person company in Pennsylvania that manufactures custom industrial equipment for the food industry. The business was started by their grandfather after World War II and continues to be profitable today.
I call these guys penny-pinchers because they’re not cheapskates. They have money and they’ll spend it, as long as they see the value. I’ve always admired this about them. Their discipline and focus on keeping costs down is an enormous reason why they’ve kept their company going for so long. But sometimes they over-do it.
For example, both Lou and Larry have never been big believers in upgrading their technology. They have always subscribed to the “If it isn’t broke, then why fix it?” mentality. “Why should I upgrade my computers every other year?” Larry once said to me. “What? Because Microsoft tells me to do it? No way!” He always advised me to do the same: buy and hold your technology. Don’t buy-in to the always-have-to-upgrade theory that seems to drive the profits of hardware and software makers. For years I believed that advice. Until I realized that it was really dumb advice.
Technology is not like your typical asset. It’s under continuous change. You don’t just buy it and hold it. It has to be continuously upgraded and frequently replaced. If you don’t, then you and your business suffer – in these three ways.
Your company’s security suffers. Look into any recent database hack and you’ll find a similar thread: Hackers like to find machines that are old. That’s because they’re running older operating systems that haven’t been updated with the latest security protections. Because the machines are compromised, hackers can gain access to the network and wreak havoc. Older hardware and software is a huge security risk for your company.
Your company’s productivity suffers. Lou and Larry haven’t embraced the cloud and so they’re still running older, on-premise systems. That’s a shame, because today’s cloud-based applications are able to talk to each other much, much, MUCH more easily than systems resident on servers and older PCs. Because of their “isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset, employees at their company re-enter the same information two or three times and usually make a mistake or two along the way. By embracing change and replacing their older systems, they would see huge gains in productivity.
Your recruitment suffers. About half of today’s workforce are Millennials – those who are currently between ages 18 and 34. These people have grown up in the cloud – they’re used to Facebook, mobile devices and apps for everything. When you show a prospective employee around the office and they take one look at your older systems, they’ll run for the hills. Who wants to work for a company with such outdated technology? What is this, the 1980s? Is that an actual Atari console? Today’s recruits want – no, they expect – to work with the latest and best cloud-based software and to be mobile – collaborating and communicating from their smartphones just like they’ve been doing for the past ten years. Anything else is a big turnoff.
When it comes to technology, even if it isn’t broke, it still needs fixing. Technology always needs fixing. It’s an annual investment. Hopefully both brothers will change their old-school ways and accept this fact. Not doing so could be a big problem for their company in the years to come.
Join writer and small business owner Gene Marks each Wednesday for the Small Biz Ahead podcast. You can submit a question for Gene to answer on the podcast.